Jesus cried with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”
The beginning of the 22nd psalm begins in desolation and suffering. This is the prayer that was on the mind and lips of Jesus as He struggled to breathe upon the cross. There is no doubt that the soul of Christ felt the full brunt of pain that accompanies crucifixion. His body was racked with pain; he deeply felt more than we can know the emotional trauma of rejection, betrayal and abandonment. How can anyone begin to understand this depth of awful and horrid loneliness? Believing that Jesus is the true Son of God, we wonder at the chasm of darkness that enveloped His soul in those three hours on the cross and the previous days’ multitude of suffering. Jesus is one of us, a real man, who knew frustration, annoyance and every other true human emotion. Though every human being has his or her own type of suffering in particular, the full range of sufferings can be found in the passion of the Lord, including desolation and loneliness.
To grasp this is crucial to identifying with Jesus, and knowing and believing that He understands, intellectually and emotionally, what we go through. “Tempted in every way we are, yet without sin.” In this moment, His human mind and heart were deep in the valley of darkness as is the case with a large portion of humanity. Is there anyone who has not experienced some semblance of darkness from time to time? Perhaps.
But how do we reconcile this with His divine nature? And, joined to that conundrum, how could we who are “merely” human identify with the consolation that was also His during those final hours?
It is important to remember something about knowledge and how we come to know anything. Generally, we gain knowledge by experiencing the world through our senses. Our minds learn how to put that information together, and, by the power of reason, we make sense of what we receive. Learning is a combination between our mind’s ability to make judgments (this is so, this is not so) and remembering past knowledge, now applied to the present. Over time we make more connections, and with our imagination, we can even push the limits of past experiences into things that are new. Take the example of Thomas Edison, who put together the power of electricity, charcoal and a glass jar to make the first light bulb. He had attempted about 10,000 times to make a light bulb, and had learned, as he put it, 10,000 ways what NOT to do. After so many failures, he took one of his power naps, and had an enlightening insight, pardon the pun. He remembered that wood, when burned while deprived of oxygen, did not flame up, but slowly burned and gradually turned into charcoal. Applying this principle to his experiment, he sucked the air out of a glass jar, inserted the electric wire, and turned on the power. The filament began to glow without flaming up, and the light bulb came into being. The world would never be the same. The power of the mind to associate, collate and create is tremendous, and is available to all of us.
But God is beyond the senses. He is beyond thought. We can see evidence of Him in creation, and extrapolate His existence from the things that are sensed, but we cannot penetrate the heavens, as it were, and see Him face to face, as He truly is. Reason brings us to the brink and then, strain as it might, cannot make the jump. It is not that He is dark in Himself, but, as the eyes of the owl are blinded by the sun, therefore he only comes out at night, so our eyes are blind to the full brilliance of the Divine essence. Faith, then, is the ability we have, as spiritual beings, to cross that line. Faith comes by hearing. The Word gives us knowledge where sight and the other senses fail. In an ordinary life, faith can be easy. It can come with consolations and support and other forms of help that make a life of faith even enjoyable.
But what happens when we are stripped of those consolations and supports? Indeed, in the tradition of the spiritual life, the soul who seeks to grow in faith must first voluntarily strip itself from such consolations, and start on the path of mature faith. God of course helps us on this path, and His word teaches us things we would not otherwise think about. Sometimes this can be quite simple and even enjoyable, as the mind has “Ah ha!” moments, and rejoices in new knowledge. Other times, such knowledge comes at a price, through an event or series of events that put us to the test.
When someone begins to be deeply imbued with faith, there comes a point where ordinary knowledge and images just are not enough. We can even reach the heights of Everest and still we do not penetrate the heavens. God then takes over, as it were, and strips us of even extraordinary principles of insight. God is so beyond the mind’s ability to grasp Him that only grace and the very presence of the Holy Spirit are able to supply what the ordinary human does not have.
In the case of Jesus, there was no imperfection from which He had to be purged, no sin which darkened His mind, and so His human understanding was always aware of His divine nature, and the face of His Heavenly Father. That Jesus was truly human is shown in His frustrations with the apostles and other people in general. He KNEW what He knew, and when the ignorant and the sinfully willful would not see things as He did, it brought about the emotional repugnance He showed, as in the case of His statement after the Transfiguration, “How much longer must I be with you?”
In the case of the cross, Jesus felt all the pains of that torment, including that deep down sorrow of being abandoned, rejected and betrayed, and, more than all of that, the horror of all the sins of the world which He took upon Himself. He felt guilty for what He had not done. He allowed the darkness of sin and error and hate to envelop His soul and His heart. Yet all the while, He was still, at the “peak” of His human mind, still in contact with the Divine essence and all the joy that accompanies that. He not only bridged the gap between sinful humanity and divine holiness; He was that bridge. This is why the very ground in which the cross was planted began to shake and tremble. The most perfect being was being shaken to His core. It truly felt like abandonment for Him. Sin, after all, is stupid, and Jesus is Wisdom incarnate. The contrast could not be starker. Always in control of His environment, at the proper time He released His soul into the hands of the Father, breaking apart, as it were, His perfect constitution, to be restored in glory at the resurrection.
But what about us who are not perfect, and may not reach those heights of spiritual perfection that many saints tasted and enjoyed throughout their lives, or at least at the end of a long struggle? This is where living faith comes in. We may not ever have sufferings like unto the sufferings of Christ, but we still do, sometimes horribly. Our friends and family may not leave and betray us did many of Jesus’ friends and relations, but we experience moments of such things. There are some who never have a sick day in their lives, but everyone has experienced some form of frustration and setback. How can we maintain sanity in the midst of the crazy and the horrible? Faith is that link that makes us like unto Christ, even to the point of having peace in the midst of suffering. But it is not a faith of feeling good or of seeing things clearly. It must be a faith of surrender and, more importantly, love, that Jesus went through this for us, that He died for each of us individually, and that the condemnation He took upon Himself makes up for our own lack and selfishness. We may cry out, in moments of suffering, My God, My God, why? WHY? And that is okay, as long as we repeat with Him Who died and rose for us, “Into Thy hands, I commit my spirit.”